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  • Newsletter Issue #521

    November 22nd, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    Somewhere in the background, you consider Adobe to be a huge, highly successful company. After all, how can they miss what with an application, Photoshop, whose name has become a verb for editing photos. Even mainstream talk shows and TV series fare mention “Photoshopping” a picture when they want to convey the image of retouching or otherwise manipulating an image.

    So it may come as a surprise to you that Adobe has had its share of financial and sales woes, particularly as the result of the poor pupate of its CS4 software. Sales are down over the previous version, and Adobe is shedding approximately 10% of its staff, or 680 workers. This is mostly a repeat of the previous year’s experience, where some 900 employees were given pink slips, and its truly sad this has to happen during what’s supposed to be a happy time of the year.

    So what’s wrong with Adobe and why are they forced to slim down?

    That takes us to last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, which included a special encore of “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent discussed Adobe’s apparent inability to cater to the consumer market, which may be one of the key reasons for flagging sales. In addition, he also talked about the serious lack of technical expertise in far too much of today’s tech reporting.

    In another segment, Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS, discussed a genuine iPhone virus, and also Apple’s “fuzzy logic” in examining submissions from the ever-popular App Store.

    You’ll also heard from columnist Kirk McElhearn about his broken iPod, problems with upgrading his Apple TV and why he sent back his Amazon Kindle e-book reader after using it for just a few days.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, we feature James Carrion, International Director of MUFON, talks about the organization’s 40-year history of UFO research, focusing on key cases, including the controversy over the claims of contactee Stan Romanek.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    SOME THINGS THAT APPLE GETS WRONG

    At the risk of offending some of my readers who believe that Apple can do no wrong, let me put my cards on the table. Apple is not your friend, even though the company is widely admired. It is a great money making machine, too, with products that have become cultural icons, such as the iPhone and iPod.

    Certainly Apple has messed up big time on more than a few occasions. The dark days of the 1990s nearly signaled the end of the company as we know it. In those days, the company’s leadership actively sought merger partners, and I bet most people — other than Apple’s competitors — are glad that it didn’t happen.

    When Apple does screw up these days, you have to wonder what they were thinking and what sort of market research they conduct in order to decide on products and product features. Or is it simply a matter of Steve Jobs being the decider on everything without regard to practical value?

    Surely the Cube is an example of what may have been nothing more than an indulgence on the part of Jobs. At the time, commentators regarded it as a modern day version of the original NeXT personal computer, which was also cube-shaped. It’s also certain that Jobs didn’t want to see it discontinued, but ultimately how to bow to the reality of ongoing sales shortfalls, even after the price was sharply reduced.

    Mac OS X is an example of success and failure. You’d think that, in carving out its original feature set, Apple would simply take all of the ones we’ve grown to love about the Classic Mac OS and just recreate them in the new environment, perhaps with a few neat graphical flourishes. Instead, the changes don’t always seem to make sense, and when some capability is finally restored, you wonder why it took so long.

    Take the Put Back feature in Snow Leopard, where you can return an item in the Trash to its original location before you tossed it away. There’s nothing new about this capability, since it was present in the Classic Mac OS, so why did it take Apple ten years to figure a way to put it back?

    Now I understand about the shortcomings of the initial versions of Mac OS X, where Apple simply didn’t have the time to get everything right, but needed to prove to the world that it was possible to build that long-delayed industrial strength operating system. Once available, however, you had to wonder what Apple was thinking when it came to the features that were never restored.

    So, for example, the Apple menu, infinitely malleable under Mac OS 9, can only be configured in one way under Mac OS X, and that is the result of changes in the number of Recent Items that are displayed. Sure, there are some third-party alternatives that promise to restore those lost Classic OS features. While I have nothing against Apple leaving it to others to fill in some of Mac OS X’s gaps, I have to wonder what they are thinking when putting feature sets together.

    But it’s not just the lost features that raise concerns. In a previous article on the subject, I ranted about the fact that the Snow Leopard Finder still doesn’t address some basic performance and reliability shortcomings of its predecessor. Sure, it’s nice to know it’s now all Cocoa and 64-bit to boot, but so what? Does any of that make a difference whatever in terms of how you use the Finder?

    Would that 32-bit Carbon version have been that much worse — or worse at all?

    Yes, Cocoa and 64-bit sound great as marketing tools, but don’t you just want something that just works regardless of what programming method was used? Snow Leopard was supposed to be this huge release that fixed up most of what ailed Mac OS X, and perhaps that’s largely true. The Finder doesn’t seem that much better, however.

    It doesn’t necessarily stop there. You see, the 3D Dock, heavily criticized when it first debuted in Leopard, is just as troublesome in 10.6. So, you still have to sometimes glance twice to check out which apps are open.

    When it comes to Spaces, certainly it’s nice to work with Apple’s multiple desktop feature. However, it remains flaky with some of my most important apps. Maybe it’s their fault, maybe it’s Apple’s or perhaps a combination of both, the most likely explanation. But it’s when I’m forced to juggle windows constantly when switching among apps, the undeniable advantages of Spaces are lost.

    These days, I use ASM, short for Application Switcher Menu, which actually restores Classic window switching. Indeed, you have to wonder whether it truly made a whole lot of sense to change. My particular use for ASM is for its window hiding feature, where all applications other than the one you’re using are hidden from view. Spaces, of course, lets you set things up so that multiple applications are displayed at the same time, by putting them in the same “space.” So it’s not a total loss.

    Oh well, maybe things will get better in 10.7. Perhaps the Finder’s amnesia will be nothing more than a bad memory, and once Apple gets back to adding new features again, perhaps they’ll finally discover a great source of inspiration — Mac OS 9.

    SO DOES THE NIGHT OWL REALLY HATE MICROSOFT?

    The other day I received a letter from a listener who said that while he liked the show, we spent far too much time bashing Microsoft. Shouldn’t we just say this is a show that favors Apple Inc. and be done with it?

    Well, let’s consider this for a moment. You see, I really don’t hate Microsoft. In fact, I’ve used Windows for over 15 years, but without much success. Even in the dark days of Apple, where it seemed they could do nothing right, I persevered, not out of loyalty, but the result of simply being practical. The Mac was a superior platform, it was an elegant and reasonably reliable tool to get my work done, so why should I change?

    There’s no question where Microsoft failed then and now to change my opinions about their operating system. The things that took just a few steps on a Mac would require multiple and complicated procedures on Windows. You have to wonder whether their interface designers lived in goldfish bowls. How could they not see the Mac advantage and try to devise a closer imitation? Or even something superior perhaps?

    I mean, it took them eight years to figure out how to crib the Dock, and the best they could deliver was something that resembled a cheap application launching center rather than the real thing. Yes, I suppose it’s a neat idea to mouseover and see a thumbnail of an open document window and all, but it still looks chintzy. Why can’t Microsoft hire people with an artistic sense?

    Or maybe they have such people, but they can’t figure out a way to harness their talents to best advantage. Instead, they design by committee, and they seem unable to learn anything from focus groups, usability testing or whatever tools they employ to actually figure out how things ought to work.

    It’s also clear that Microsoft made a serious strategic blunder early on by not taking security seriously. They never anticipated the growth of the Internet and the arrival of the online predator subculture. They are still paying for that mistake, as are their customers who must fork over fees for security software subscriptions, not to mention the billions lost as the result of malware outbreaks.

    Sure, Windows 7 is clearly superior to Windows Vista. It’s clearly more reliable, runs a mite faster, but the interface is really no better. It has the dark, drab, cheesy veneer that typifies Windows. More to the point, it can seem downright depressing when you have to work with it for an extended period of time. Sure, you can change desktop backgrounds and other settings to liven things up, but Windows still somehow gets in your face, and that’s a bad thing.

    This isn’t to say Mac OS X is necessarily minimalist or close to perfect in any sense. As I said in the previous article, Apple still has plenty of work to do in order to clean up the rough spots. But they’ve gone a lot farther than Microsoft in building a sensible, productive environment for you to run your apps. And isn’t that what personal computing should be about?

    Rest assured, if I felt that Windows had truly surpassed the Mac OS, I’d say so. But that’s not even close to the truth. Yes, we’ve featured guests on the tech show who have had positive things to say about Windows 7, notably Rob Pegoraro of The Washington Post and Steve Kruschen, known his fans as “Mr. Gadget.” But these two people still prefer the Mac, as do I. And that’s something that Microsoft’s half-baked efforts to seem relevant are not going to change.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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